Series 9

Raw Grief

“I have eight years of writing in a journal—everyday,” Phyllis said. “Some are pretty sad because it tells the raw moments of grief.” The journal was a present from a friend who encouraged her to express her feelings after the death of her husband of fifty years.

What thoughts course through your mind when facing the words: “Moments of raw grief”? I admit the curious side of me poked through, wondering how Phyllis, a writer for more than fifty-years, would articulate her deep feelings. Though, I knew they were too private to share.

Yet as we talked about her nearly eighty years of life, many moments of grief were shared. Polio since age 13. A meal of tainted food turned into a ten-year battle with hepatitis. She had to deal with her husband’s industrial accident which forced many life changes. And now she faces living with late stage polio.

“I’ve had a lot of struggles,” Phyllis said. “They draw you closer to God.”

And when asked her favorite Bible verse, she quoted, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  It’s no wonder she was quoting the Apostle Paul because he knew tremendous life struggles himself-- even to his eventual martyrdom.

This is how Paul leads up to that Bible verse: “I have learned to be content whatever circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation . . .”

Doesn’t this seem impossible? Well it is, except …

There’s the secret Paul and Phyllis have learned.

Grief? Struggles?  Phyllis told her husband as he approached death: “I will talk to God everyday.” And with that she connects to her source of strength—Jesus Christ.



It was no surprise that Jeannette had coffee and donuts waiting when I arrived at her house. Working for her is enjoyable. I was hoping for a no-surprises morning as I wanted to make a quick job of installing her new kitchen countertop and sink.

We rolled up the metal door of the delivery truck. Briefly looking at the countertop, the driver said “It’s cracked!”

He fumed; I headed into the house to inform Jeanette of the unpleasant surprise.

Practically running to the truck, disgusted with the countertop, Jeanette demanded that the driver open the box containing her $700 stainless steel sink.

“Look at this sink, Rick!” she said. Rubbing the sink, she informed me of its many defects. Truthfully, it seemed normal to me. I glanced at the driver; he looked at me. Optionless —we put the sink back in the box.

Surprising? Yes. Yet, this was trivial compared to the ultimate surprising event which occurred after Jesus’ death. Risen from the dead; people stared at Him in disbelief. How did Jesus respond?  On three occasions, He comforted: “Peace be with you."

Home from work, I checked my email. A friend from Africa, with the unusual name of Surprise Sithole, was writing to tell me about a Pastor’s conference.

In a country where $700 is wages for months, people walked uncountable miles to attend the long anticipated time to worship God. Events turned shockingly tragic as militant anti-Christian youth beat one pastor to death.

Yet Pastor Surprise’s email overflowed with situation-overcoming joy at the realness of God in his life and church. He left the conference with the mindset of the resurrected Jesus: “Peace be with you.”

This peace, which Jesus offers, cannot be bought. Given freely to all who come to Him:  “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you.”


5:55 Diet Part 1


I could grab a handful of it protruding from my stomach.

God, help me.

God will. He says, “Call to me I will answer you. I will show you mysterious things you cannot figure out on your own.”  With endless get-unfat schemes available, I need help.

So God, please help me. The Bible tells us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Keeping our bodies in shape is of worthy importance.

This concept popped into my head. Is this from you God? The 5:55 Diet. God, this is a great idea.

The basic concept is to set a numerical goal which doesn’t involve counting calories or endlessly hopping on the scales. I’m not counting calories and I rarely weigh myself. Instead, I set a personal goal to run a mile in five minutes and fifty-five seconds within a year.

Thinking about calories and weighing myself causes hunger stirring food thoughts and a focus on my fatness. I would rather think about crossing the finish line, lungs burning, glancing at my stop watch seeing 5:55.

My first trip to the track produced a sobering 7:54 mile.

A few weeks later I was surprised when the only other person at the track noticed my straining as I neared the half mile mark. He yelled, “Steady.” And then as I neared the finish line he yelled again, “You’re almost there.” I crossed the line at 6:47.

But bottom line, the getting-in-better-shape agenda needs to be strongly tempered. The Bible says: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Yes! That’s the true goal-- true fitness.

As we do that, can’t you almost hear Jesus? “Steady. You’re almost there.”


The Guitar Legend Speaks

“The guitar legend shares the keys to a life well lived” headlined the newspaper article.

As the article approached the conclusion, a highlighted heading proclaimed: “The difference between spirituality and religion.” Here we go; this is my kind of stuff.

The guitar legend said, “Spirituality is saying: ‘May the heaven open up and angels bless everyone with a deep awareness of his own light. Religion is saying that only Jesus got the light; you’re full of (expletive) and you are in the dark. They are the only ones that got it and you’ve gotta go through them to get it. Man. In this life the only thing that’s holy is your relationship with your heart . . .”

Can I confess? Sometimes when I become aware of my own light, it’s dull; sometimes a mere flicker.

Can I confess again? I do believe Jesus is “the only,” but you don’t go through a person to get the light. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness . . .”

And then if my relationship with my heart is the only-holy thing; we’ve got a problem. My heart is too often not holy.

Why is it I find more alignment with what the Apostle Paul said? “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

Honestly; I’m not the only one. And I’m not talking major-felony evil but all those unholy heart flaws. 

I’ll never have a holy heart enough to face a Holy God. It’s my relationship with Jesus that connects me to this Holy God. While the transforming power of the Holy Spirit renews my heart, making it holy.

One more confession—my heart needs that everyday.


Your Testimony

“I don’t have a good testimony,” Sato said. We had just met. I asked him to tell me his testimony as a way of getting acquainted. 

My short silence and question-marked facial expression caused Sato to ask, “What is a testimony?” I instantly understood. Sato, a new Christian from Japan, wasn’t able to hurdle the language barriers— “Christianese” and English.

In the let’s-share context I was talking about, I meant the story of how he became a Christian. Sato smiled; now he knew what I meant.

God says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

For over a year Sato had traveled the world seeking God. He traveled to India, spending a month there seeking God. He traveled to the United States and sought God. He repeated this pattern as he traveled the globe. Sato says, “Each time I returned to Japan I felt empty.”

Sato encountered the spectrum of religion during his travels yet he still hadn’t found what he was looking for.

Is it true if we seek for God, the true God, we will find Him? God promises we will.

Confused, disillusioned, tired and still desperately seeking God, he once again returned to Japan. Late one night, Sato was again searching for God--this time on the Internet. He found Heidi Baker preaching a simple message about Jesus Christ, repentance of sin, the good news of forgiveness and eternal life.

Sato had traveled the world looking for God; looking for his personal Messiah. That night the good-news message went from his head to his heart. Sato had found what he was looking for—Jesus.

And your testimony? You don’t have one? It can start today—“When you seek God with all your heart.”